December 20, 2010 GMT
Libya



Suzuki GSXRs in the desert for the Solar Eclipse of 2006.



Not part of this Whyteleafe to Cape Town journey, but it does feature the Sahara and some motorbikes.
So as the weather here hasn't been at all conducive to straightening out my toolkit sufficiently to put anything but my bicycle back on the road, I'll offer a piece I wrote a while ago after watching this marvel of nature in the Sahara.
Be warned - there are no photos of the GSXRs.



"Welcome To My Sandpit"


Quite nice, my sandpit. Twenty square metres, nice clean sand, no dog mess. South-facing aspect.
My view - another eight thousand sand pits - all nested neatly in eleventy squillion square miles of....... errr, - sand!
And if you don't want to believe me when I say we were stuck in a traffic jam for forty-five minutes, here in the middle of the Sahara Desert, waiting to leave the road to find a parking space on the millions of acres of sand, that's ok. You weren't there.......


Back on the cruise ship M/V Perla, moored in Benghazi, our Eclipse Day had started with wake-up alarms at two in the morning, followed by coffee and Danish at 2:30am and carriages at three.
And so it was that our convoy of twenty coaches, two police escorts, two spare coaches, medical attendants, guides, and seven hundred and forty eclipse-chasers chased each other out of Benghazi City onto the desert road to the south. To keep an appointment with nature that would wait for no man.
There are three certainties in this world - death, taxes, and the time of an eclipse.


Five minutes later we were all neatly parked up along a kilometre of road in the suburbs, going nowhere.
"Sorry chaps, four of the coaches haven't been fuelled, so they're looking for a petrol station." (Open at three a.m?!!)
During the previous year, Libya had welcomed a hundred thousand tourists. The year before that, fifty thousand. This week, we were among a million visitors pouring into the country from all directions, by all methods of transport, all for one single event on one single day. So, another certainty: things will go wrong on this journey. TIA - This is Africa, and the delay lasted an hour.


Fully fuelled, travelling more hopefully now, our convoy joined the desert road in darkness for the three-hundred-and-fifty mile journey south, to a spot beyond the oasis town of Jalu.


On the left hand side, ever-so-slowly, the sky lightened as the roadside vegetation decreased and our speed, and the whine of the engine, increased. Before long there was only sand to be seen whizzing by in the half-light, dotted with the ghostly remains of tyres, oil drums, and abandoned rusty wrecks. The eastern horizon first indigo, then blue, with tinges of violet and maroon, then red. The anticipation of a glorious desert sunrise was in the air, lifting our spirits above the non-stop droning that filled the coach and tried to send us to restless sleep.
But also lifting, from the ground, was a dense, low, morning mist. It rose from the desert with the growing eastern light, and completely hid from view the newly-risen sun. And the tail lights of the coach in front. Our driver had to slow right down along with all the others in the convoy, adding to the hour's delay that had already set back our arrival time. Now our worries increased, as did the mist, and the dawn light.


Perhaps it was appropriate that we couldn't see the sun, as we certainly wouldn't have been able to see the star of today’s show, the moon, that had risen just before. Which reminded me of an ancient Persian conundrum: "The moon is more useful than the sun," says the old eccentric. "Why?" ask his friends.
"Because we need the light more at night!"
(.......yes, I know, that's already appeared somewhere else on this blog.......)


Now, there's a bend in the road, some subtle change of topography, and in the ten o'clock direction a bright hazy sun appeared suspended above the mist. Something nice and stationary in our view now, against the blurred vision of desert garbage, isolated scrubby plants and electricity pylons flashing past outside the windows.
Spirits rose a little, as it augured well for the Great Mime Show in the Sky. That's the best analogy I can think of right now; - spectacular, intriguing and mystifying to the eye, - but with no sound. And for one night - sorry, one day - only. This will be my third eclipse, and the mystery continues.
These two sixpence-sized bodies in the sky push and pull the earth's entire stock of water into high tides, low tides, flood tides and tidal floods. Surely they must have some effect on our own water-filled bodies. They certainly have an effect on our spirit - witness the hundreds of thousands travelling all this way with us into the Libyan desert to watch this amazing show.


Back in the coach, the sun was shining brightly through the windows, speeds increased, and the race south was on. Although our convoy was constrained between the lead and tail-end police escorts, our Egyptian drivers were determined to put on a display of Grand Prix coach racing that would truly impress us European tourists on board. It was difficult to see exactly what was controlling the speed of the engine; was it the accelerator pedal or the horn button? When the driver used either one, we leapt forward to overtake the coach in front, notwithstanding the width of the road, the piles of sand across it, or oncoming traffic. After passing two or three more, releasing the horn button steered us back over to the right hand side and into a gap that wasn't there between the speeding coaches. Or wasn't until our driver released the horn button. The horn played secret codes, and after a while it was obvious - the accelerator pedal played no part at all. Simply press the button for Horn Concerto Number One and the coach steered left, accelerated to warp speed and cruised along past everything else.
Any traffic oncoming? - well, this road traversed the desert, if there was a foot of space for anything coming the other way, there were thousands.
Concerto Number Two indicated "overtake me if you dare." The response was immediate. Concerto Number One sounded from a coach somewhere behind, and it came thundering past, ready to force a gap out of nothing to swerve into.
There certainly wasn't any boredom, and probably on a longer journey the police escorts would have joined in too.


I was reminded of that old Flanders and Swann song, something like;
"If tickets cost a-thousand-pounds a-piece
Why should you make a fuss?
It's worth it just to ride inside
That 30-foot-long by 10-foot-wide,
The master of the Libyan road,
Observant of the Desert Code,
That big six-wheeler Arabic-painted Cairo Transport diesel-engined 97-horsepower,
97-horsepower Egyptian bus.
HOLD very tight please! BEEEEP BEEP-beep-BEEP-beep, bip-bip-bip-bip!"



(Anyone too young to know what that's all about can look here..........http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVHbF0jAzMw
or even here, for the under-fives........
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qa2qtQ0Y-gY&feature=related
Hey! - they say the Routemaster bus is coming back for the Olympics!)


Indeed, one of our number in a coach to the rear of the convoy took an absolutely unique Libyan eclipse photo; the line of buses cruising ahead of him, a large truck coming the other way, and unbelievably, not a single overtaking manoeuvre in progress. The camera never lies...... maybe.


(For anyone confused at this point, about Cairo buses in Libya, a million tourists had poured into the country, more or less just for this one day. Consequently, neighbouring Egypt had exported its entire stock of tourist coaches and drivers across the border to cater for us. It was also why the tour company had put us up on a cruise ship, all hotel rooms had booked up years before.)


So it was that we penetrated deeper into the Sahara. Until ahead, close to twenty-eight degrees eighteen minutes north, the first signs of the pandemonium to come. Cars steering off the road and sinking into the sand. Small groups of tents and tripods. Slower and slower queues of traffic on the tarmac, faster lines of 4X4s racing past us on the sand, sometimes six, maybe ten abreast. Then bigger groups of bigger tents and bigger tripods, more and more traffic. Slower and slower.


Shift the Brands Hatch World SuperBikes to the Libyan desert, substitute pick-ups and forty-eight-seater coaches for the bikes and cars squeezing through the gates, and that's the sight that now loomed out of the desert on the road to Chad.
No police, no roads, no fences, no gates, no rules. But still it took half an hour to crawl the last kilometre, and yet another half-hour to find a spot to leave the tarmac and drive out over the sand.
M25 - eat yer heart out......
Almost as a token acknowledgement to World SuperBikes, three or four GSXRs with open cans wheelied flamboyantly in fine style up and down the road to entertain us, dodging the jammed-up traffic, ridden by djellaba-clad lads with protective berber headscarfs. Cheered on by their mates, all in true Chelsea Bridge Friday Night style.


Eventually our drivers gave up trying to reach the spot that the tour company had planned. They had noticed that out to the right, away from the road, a large area of Sahara was still, thankfully, unoccupied by tents, tripods and parked vehicles. But leaving twenty coaches parked up along a kilometre of this desert road was undoubtedly going to make traffic matters far worse. On the other hand, time was rapidly running out to see the start of the eclipse.
Here, Libyan logic rescued us: "Get all seven hundred passengers off the buses quickly and out into the desert!" implored the drivers to our tour company reps. "And if anyone in authority (anyone in authority??!!!) comes along they'll never be able to demand we move the buses."
- Try telling THAT to a Westminster Council traffic warden......
So we all scrambled off in double quick time, raced out towards the desert horizon, and built our sandpits.
Thus the empty, lonely, lifeless desert was no more.
I found myself suddenly the sole occupier of a sizeable chunk of prime Sahara eclipse-viewing real-estate, and hadn't paid a penny to any estate agent. Not bad. About fifty yards to the west a largish group of enthusiasts were planting tripods. The same distance east, an elderly couple with big telescope and bigger solarscope. There was a long way to the south before encountering anyone, and a much greater distance to the north to a small group who were just dots on the horizon.



libya1.jpg
Small part of coach convoy beyond the eclipse-chasers.


"Where are Roy and Conrad?" I wondered, two friends from the Croydon astronomy club. I didn't know which bus they had been on, only that Roy had said earlier, "I'm going to walk as far away from the coaches as possible, maybe even out of sight!"
"Beware of sudden sandstorms!" I had warned. "Take a reel of cotton, tie one end to a bus, reel it out behind you as you walk over the horizon." I had visions of Roy phoning the ship's radio officer from Timbuktu or the middle of The Great Sand Sea, requesting a helicopter pickup.
So, with binoculars, I scanned around the horizon, near and far, looking for a familiar face. What I actually saw, flashing into vivid magnified view, were, oh dear….. the unfettered, unhidden activities you might expect to see when seven-hundred-odd men and women disgorge from Egyptian coaches in the desert, after being deprived of "facilities" for the seven hours since breakfast!
I quickly put down my binoculars, making a mental note only to point them up at the sky...... at least until we were close to "facilities" once again.


Like all eclipses I suppose, this one had its own unique atmosphere. Endless desert, thousands of spectators and vehicles, including a huge truck and trailer stuck in the traffic, transporting young camels. Maybe for delivery to Lawrence of Arabia. And it was pretty much silent despite the crowds. Sound seemed to be deadened by the sand, similar to when it snows.
In this silence, everyone was fairly solitary, attending to his or her own tripod, camera, solar viewer, rug for sitting on, binoculars, telescope, blue and yellow lunchbox from the good ship M/V Perla. One abiding memory: Those seven-hundred-and-forty bright and shiny, blue-and-yellow, 15-inch-long by 6-inch-wide, cruise-ship lunch boxes, scattered around the ochre sands of the Sahara - must have been visible from outer space. Maybe Lawrence was watching us from up there, somewhere beyond the sun..... Make a margin note here, remember to check Google Earth when they put new satellite photos on the site.



libya2.jpg
My sandpit with blue-and-yellow lunchbox wedged between rucksack and plastic carrier bag.


I thought I'd have a bit of fun taking photos of crescent sun images projected through my binoculars onto my own shadow. There must be a name for that type of photography, not quite 'self portrait'.


Time passes, everyone settled, and we have about 50% eclipse now. It's strange - a still-brilliant Sahara sun, but I can now see a bit easier writing this stuff on the bright white notepaper.
For a while, the broad waters of the English Channel appear close by to the east. Ahh! It's Camber Sands. Time for a paddle in the sea.
Oops - no - it’s a desert mirage.



libya3.jpg
Binoculars in left hand project two images of about 60% eclipse onto my own shadow. Camera in right hand.


Now it's 75%, less light without actually being darker. Time for some more photos. I've tried to travel light here, compact digital camera, 10 X 50 binoculars, No.14 welding glass. No tripod.


Looking to the south-west, the direction the eclipse was coming from, a stupendous V-shape of desert scenery and sky, reaching out to the distant horizon and high to the heavens, had gone perceptibly darker than the rest of the surroundings. Just dark enough to be apparent. A faint, almost menacing, portent of the black shadow racing towards us at supersonic speed, 1000 to 2000mph, now only a few minutes away. That V-shape shadow effect, I think, would only ever be visible in this sort of huge flat desert situation.


Still the sun shone brightly, shadows sharp and distinct. But the temperature was noticeably lower, the reduction emphasized by the steady breeze springing up from the southwest. One of our group measured a temperature drop from 32C to 22C over this eclipse.


I've tried before to describe what happens to the light during these minutes, saying shadows don't lengthen or fade, colours remain, it doesn't get darker. It's nothing like the evening nor clouds obscuring the sun. There's simply, somehow, less and less light. You have to see it yourself.
Coincidentally, a few days ago, I heard on the radio that Virginia Woolf saw a total eclipse, under cloud in the north of England, 1927, and wrote, "the light sank and sank."
The sun doesn't, and that's a good choice of words as you'd expect.



libya4.jpg
Less than a minute to go. Shadows as distinct as ever.


While photographing a sliver of projected crescent sun on the ground, I looked up at just the right moment to see a solitary bird, like a large swallow, flitting rapidly through the spectators, just above the sand. It appeared suddenly and silently from the south and disappeared just as suddenly over a great rising slope of sand to the north. Wondering where the warmth had gone, maybe, or fleeing the approaching shadow.



libya5.jpg
The horizon, seconds remaining.


Now came the eternal quandary of eclipse chasing; what to look at during those last few seconds?
Use the welding glass to watch the shrinking crescent followed by the brilliant sparkling diamond ring?
Watch the scenery and horizon all around to see the shadow instantly descend, as though the lights had been turned off?



libya6.jpg
Fewer seconds remaining.


Try to take yet another photo?
Look out for more confused bird-life?
The answer came. From an excited distant muffled voice carried across the quiet desert. "Shadow bands!"
These narrow light-and-dark bands on the ground aren't always visible during eclipses. But here they were in abundance, slithering and sliding, dancing across the sand, southwest to northeast. More things to see and look at. But right now, there's a final chance to see the last sliver of the crescent sun up in the sky. Need the welding glass for that, but I still have the camera in my hand. So, a quick photo of the ground just in case the shadow bands show up (they didn't). Swap camera for welding glass to see the last second of crescent sun and a super-white flash of the diamond ring.



libya10.jpg


Dispose of the welding glass for the fading of the diamond ring. It's so brilliantly white, that diamond in the sky, whiter than anything man-made, or anything else in nature that I know of. Finally, hoist binoculars up to see the start of totality. All faster than you can say it. No chance to observe the darkening horizon during that lot then.



libya7.jpg
Totality. Automatic camera compensates for darkness with an exposure of a few seconds.


There's no doubt about it, the only way to see everything during an eclipse is to see the next one, and the next one, and the next o...... No wonder they say a million people have descended on this narrow eclipse-path across the desert for this unique four-minutes of celestial time.



libya9.jpg
What you see with the naked eye.


A ragged rectangle of pure soft white light spreads beyond the moon's jet-black silhouette. Ghostly, streaky, glowing fingers extending into the sky left and right. And all so low in the sky you could touch it if you had a step ladder. Maybe next time - add it to the list. Venus, shining brightly to the west, has also never looked so close. At 12:30 in the afternoon!! Stars sparkle in the deep dark blue. Again, like no other deep dark blue you can see. A common illusion I've noticed during total eclipses is that everything in the sky appears to be so low; the height of your window-cleaner's ladder.


Back to the binoculars.


libya8.jpg
This is what you see.
These "tiny" prominences are flaming arcs or filaments, maybe a few hundred thousand miles high.



Thoughtfully, during this sparkling clear totality, a group of local spectators play some desert Arabic music, that drifts tranquilly across the sands towards the peachy-pink-blue, red rainbow-like, you-name-it, dark horizon, adding to the mystery.
This horizon looked as though there had just been a fiery tropical sunset somewhere in paradise. But, the sun hadn't set below the horizon! No, it had set way up in the sky behind the moon. But "way up in the sky" now seemed to be just a couple of yards above head-height. Truly, the world-turned-upside-down!


For four minutes the blackness of the all-encompassing eclipse shadow - 'mantle' may be a better word - shifted imperceptibly from the southwest to the northeast, changing the horizon colours as it went. Spectators shouted and whistled, leaped between telescope tripods and camera tripods, panning camcorders round and round, up and down. Frantic activity, frantic observation, afraid to miss a single moment. 'Relaxation of effort', that's what's needed here I think. I'm reminded of a command someone assured me is used in the Australian army; "Hurry up and wait!"


Waiting, looking. Exactly at the predicted moment (whatever that was, one thing I definitely wasn't looking at was my watch), the magnificent diamond ring burst onto the sky, beaming straight through one of the moon's valleys like a dazzling giant star of pure white crystal light (which it is, of course!) Quickly it exploded into a blinding crescent, instantly spreading glorious sunshine all around the desert once again.
At that moment, just before the shadow bands returned, racing and snaking endlessly across the sand, thoughts of Lawrence of Arabia were chased from my head by the voice of Fred Dibnah and the parping sound of his trusty bulb horn, calling down from the top of his Chimney in the Sky.
"Did yer like thaht??"
Well, yes I did!
(Click for some fine British eccentricity)


And still the shadow bands slid across the desert. They went on for a long long time.
Later, I felt pretty lucky, when many eclipse-chasers said they were the best they had seen. Well, for the eclipse in Zimbabwe in 2001, the ground where I watched was hard, very smooth, dark mud. On this dark smoothness the shadow bands showed up so clearly, many observers with me remarked that they looked like the coat of a zebra! Not just light and dark, but closer to black and white. But there, they didn't continue for a very long time. Here in the Sahara, still they waved along the ground. Don't know how long for, but a long time.
For my next eclipse maybe I'll take a barcode reader. Who knows, perhaps we're witnessing an attempt by The Maker to stamp a celestial barcode on our planet, so that at Reckoning Time the Heavenly Checkout Operator doesn't have to go running all the way back down the Milky Way to find the price.


All good things come to an end, and now we have the long dusty journey back to Benghazi and the ship. And would you believe it? You wait a whole eclipse for a bus, and twenty come along at once. Just like home!
But no! Instead of setting course for the ship, we plunge yet further into the desert, to Eclipse City, Libya.
Now imagine a full-blown African medina and souk plonked right down in the middle of the Sahara. But, instead of a seething mass of humanity squeezing between row upon row of food stalls, jewellery bazaars and tailors' shops, picture a seething mass of forty-eight-seater Egyptian coaches squeezing between row upon row of t-shirt vendors, tents and endless lines of portable toilets.
That was Eclipse City. Hundreds of porta-loos hooked up to scores of ten-wheeled water bowsers.
Thousands of eclipse-watchers lined up in orderly queues in the full-strength sunshine after their sun-moon spectacular. - Funny sort of afterglow.


libya11.jpg
Small corner of Eclipse City, Libyan Sahara. (Taken through bus window, reflections in the sky)


But this is the desert, after all, and the t-shirts were free. And I can use the binoculars now.......
It looked as though the Libyan authorities had done a pretty enthusiastic job of installing this city in the middle of the desert, obviously expecting a lot more than the usual daily number of tourists you might find here......... maybe one, or fewer. It must have been a huge undertaking to transport it all here. Meals could be found in a huge feeding tent, about the size of a football pitch, with the evening's live-band entertainment being set up in a marquee nearby. A very smart, round, colourful yet formal-looking tent was rumoured to have housed Muammar al-Qaddafi at some time during the eclipse. Certainly we saw at least two helicopters fly in and out since our first arrival. And there must have been a sizeable electricity-generating plant somewhere, out of sight.
The Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah had certainly embraced this once-in-a-lifetime event. Sadly, the special set of eclipse-day postage stamps had sold out way before we reached our first postcard-buying stop at Leptis Magna, near Tripoli.


So, while the afternoon progressed, great plumes of sand slowly rose up into the air as this surreal sandpit in the desert ejected its mechanical and human contents, and became the home of camels, sunshine, and romantic myth and legend once again.


Next stop on the eclipse omnibus, they say, is the Gobi Desert, 1st August, 2008........
[Side-note: a good friend of mine went to that eclipse, the first one she'd ever seen, was instantly hooked, and ventured all the way to Rapa Nui (Easter Island, way out in the Pacific), in 2010 to see the next. This stuff can be dangerously addictive!]


Back on board the M/V Perla, our tour included sea and coach trips to various Libyan Roman ruins, including Leptis Magna and Cyrene. At the first of these, at last, the opportunity arose to photograph a motorbike on the road (or actually, parked);


libya12.jpg
Libyan Police BMW at the entrance to Leptis Magna. The ruins receiving, probably, more visitors than ever before in its long lifetime, as seen below:


libya13.jpg




libya14.jpg
Finally, one for the railway enthusiasts. Some remains of the WWII railway encircling the ruins, built by the Italians. It's a funny sort of train that must have run along these tracks, made of rubber maybe.



Well, having dug out those photos, here are a couple more:


libya15.jpg
Amphitheatre at Leptis Magna.



libya16.jpg
Roman ruins at Cyrene.




So, my first solar eclipse on an astronomy tour, in the company of hundreds of amateur and professional star-gazers. People asked for my impressions.
A great bunch of down-to-earth ship-mates. No one getting hung-up on cruise-ship etiquette. Everyone happy to share their eclipse and travel experiences without boring you with descriptions of upholstery in their hotel rooms or the damping used on their equatorial telescope mounts. A very polite attitude to the alcohol rules whilst the ship was in Libyan waters. Everyone on board paid constant close attention to their hand-held GPS sets, so as to predict the precise second that the bar would open again (the moment the ship left those Libyan waters), and thus be first in the queue.
I made a particularly good contact. I had dinner with a professional astronomer at the Royal Observatory. He's on the "Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence" programme, so I'll definitely get my name on the mailing list. I want to be the FIRST to know. Well...... after the News Of The World of course.


And gadget-freaks, all of them.
From my simple observations, we had an average of 2.2 cameras per passenger. Equals sixteen hundred cameras on board.
An average of two lenses per camera, so three thousand two hundred lenses.
Listening to the technical conversations around the ship, I'd say about a hundred-and-twenty millimetres average focal length. The eclipse lasted four minutes. So, multiplying that lot up gives a total focal distance of three-hundred-and-eighty-four light-minutes. (I overheard someone talking about light-seconds, so I assume light-minutes are ok). That should get us to the Big Dipper and back, I think. Hey, this was a REAL astronomy trip!


And the arguments! Almost as good as at a motorcycle rally. "No, it's not four hundred-and-seventy-six thousand light seconds(!) to Alpha Centauri, it's two-hundred-and-eighty thousand million miles. You have to multiply by three-point-six-eight."
And; "The distance subtended by an angle of point-zero-five arc-seconds at the sun is definitely two earth-diameters."
It was all Greek to me, maybe because we were queuing at Athens airport when that one orbited my ears.
Very earnest stuff.
And this, on one of the coach trips: "Why do we have to have British Summer Time, Greek Time, Libyan Time and Ship's Time on this trip? What's wrong with Universal Time?"
"No, it should be Greenwich Mean Time."
"You mean Universal Time. Greenwich Mean Time drifts out by point nought nought four seven microseconds per solar year."
"Sidereal Time is far more accurate!"
"Look, you lot!! I live in Greenwich. Everyone understands GMT, so stick to that!"
......... I wondered whether to butt in and ask if the moon was more useful than the sun during the eclipse, and thought better of it.....


But there's one conclusion I couldn't avoid. It dawned on me during the emergency-drill demonstration on the flight home. If there's one group of people I would definitely NOT want to be with in an aeroplane in serious trouble, it's these astronomers. But here I was - trapped.
"No no no!!!! That emergency exit is point oh-oh-seven light-seconds further away!!! Get out through this one!"
"The angle of this inflatable slide will subtend one-point-seven astronomical units on the sea. We'll all drownnnnnnn!"
"Hey, where's my GPS?? Can't go without my GPS!!"
And, 200-odd enthusiasts abandoning all their unique eclipse photos in the overhead lockers??? What??? If just one of them had seen that Shackleton of The Antarctic film, where Hurley the photographer dives into twelve feet of pitch black icy water to save his glass negatives....... then no chance for us ordinary types queuing in the aisle to reach the emergency exits.....
Where’s my tin-opener??



-- oo OOO oo --



Some youtube videos from Libya:


Short scene at the start of the eclipse, showing shadow bands for the first few seconds. But you have to watch carefully to see them. In reality you can't miss them but they are frustratingly difficult to film.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOMj0B4-D_E


Short scene at the end of totality at Jalu:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NN9fDYn8f-M&feature=related


Longer video report from a fellow passenger on the M/V Perla:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txInX1RXevE
By clever processing, there's a good depiction of shadow bands on this video, at the end of the total eclipse, at about 7 minutes 10 seconds. (Or 10:31:31: on the on-screen camera counter.)


Now, if you've read this far, the bigger pictures on this blog now go back to Malawi and Mozambique.
"..... glistening in the late afternoon sun, like lengths of finely woven gossamer silk."
Yes, I do like that, you need to have climbed up telephone poles and tensioned the wires to understand........
It's like those t-shirt slogans: "Riding motorcycles - If I need to explain, you won't understand."


Plus better-sized pictures of those magnificent locos in Bulawayo.


By the way, the trees I parked under on my first day in Zimbabwe, with the noisy seed-pods that made a loud 'crack' when breaking off of the branches and again when hitting the ground, are called 'Flamboyant Trees'.
These, it seems, are known as 'flame trees' in the southern US as they are brilliant red when in flower.
I asked many people in Zimbabwe, including hotel gardeners, and the general response was, "Well, they're just trees to us, we don't usually think of them as having names."
The owners of the Youth Hostel in Bulawayo, which had a big garden, were fairly certain the seed pods I'd kept with me were from the Flamboyant Tree.



Things crop up now and again which make me realise that I've truly been out of touch for a while. Like hearing there's a promise to bring those Routemasters back to London for the Olympics.
And, I've just heard that Brough Superior motorcycles are in production again. I wish I'd known before arriving at Wadi Rum in Jordan, I could have done a Lawrence of Arabia re-enactment.
Anyway, it seems a British businessman has taken on the challenge and has sold a couple already. You can only buy one if he likes you, and you don't ask the price.
But he has given the game away - they cost "about the same as a two-up two-down suburban house."
So that's all right then - I've no room for one anyway.




Posted by Ken Thomas at December 20, 2010 01:34 PM GMT
 



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Horizons Unlimited was founded in 1997 by Grant and Susan Johnson following their journey around the world on a BMW R80 G/S motorcycle.

Susan and Grant Johnson Read more about Grant & Susan's story

Membership - help keep us going!

Horizons Unlimited is not a big multi-national company, just two people who love motorcycle travel and have grown what started as a hobby in 1997 into a full time job (usually 8-10 hours per day and 7 days a week) and a labour of love. To keep it going and a roof over our heads, we run events (22 this year!); we sell inspirational and informative DVDs; we have a few selected advertisers; and we make a small amount from memberships.

You don't have to be a Member to come to an HU meeting, access the website, the HUBB or to receive the e-zine. What you get for your membership contribution is our sincere gratitude, good karma and knowing that you're helping to keep the motorcycle travel dream alive. Contributing Members and Gold Members do get additional features on the HUBB. Here's a list of all the Member benefits on the HUBB.


Books & DVDs

amazon

All the best travel books and videos listed and often reviewed on HU's famous Books page. Check it out and get great travel books from all over the world.


Motorcycle Express for shipping and insurance!

Motorcycle Express

MC Air Shipping, (uncrated) USA / Canada / Europe and other areas. Be sure to say "Horizons Unlimited" to get your $25 discount on Shipping!
Insurance - see: For foreigners traveling in US and Canada and for Americans and Canadians traveling in other countries, then mail it to MC Express and get your HU $15 discount!

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Editors note: We accept no responsibility for any of the above information in any way whatsoever. You are reminded to do your own research. Any commentary is strictly a personal opinion of the person supplying the information and is not to be construed as an endorsement of any kind.

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